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Little Dog - Big Goose
by Sedgewort Bramble

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Let me first try to paint a picture for you.

Its Saturday 1st September 2001, the opening day of Duck and Goose season in England (1st Sept - 31st Jan) inland. The location, a small village called Great Billington, 35 miles north of London, England. The farm, Green Farm, owned by a good friend Nobby. The field, Missendens (most of our fields have names), my son calls it 'The goose field', 30 acres of barley stubble.

To the west, a working sand pit (about 150 acres of shallow water), to the east the road running through the village. North, the town of Leighton Buzzard, south, the village. I’m still a newcomer to Gt. Billington; I’ve only lived here 22 years. (Around here it’s 25 years before you’re considered a local, and I only moved from a village 6 miles away).

For the previous week, I had been watching a flock of close on 250 Canada geese and about 200 mallard feeding around the village. Most of them waking me each morning as they flew over my house and again returning each evening (nice sitting in the garden with a gin and tonic, dreaming wildfowl??). The ‘goose field’ was not cut until Thursday evening, yet when I looked at 5am Friday morning, both geese and duck were busily feeding on the grain spilled by the combine harvester. ‘Looking good’ I thought, so a phone call to and old friend Tony who lives about 100 miles north (near Birmingham), and all was set for the ‘opening day’.

I have shot this farm for more that 20 years, so I have a reasonable idea of how the ducks and geese usually behave. Early in the season they both seem happy to feed during the day and rest back on the sandpit at night, so a pattern of decoys includes both species. As darkness fell I returned to the field and set out my decoys. 7 Canada shells and 40 silhouettes, plus 6 mallard shells and a Mallard floater (designed by Tony). That done, I make a mental note of the hide locations, assuming the wind didn’t change overnight. Back home and check my gear for the 10th time, and an early night. I had agreed with Tony a 4.45am start, so I set my alarm for 4.00am. Now, those that know me are quite aware that I never sleep before shooting or fishing trips, so I lay there, checking my watch every 15 minutes until 3.00am.

Up, and a couple of cups of tea, a quick run out for the dogs and at 3.45 I’m ready for the off, at least 1 hour too early. Tony arrives at about 4.15 (he’s nearly as bad as I am), so another pot of tea goes on, a few rounds of toast, flasks filled, gear checked and packed in the car, and we’re off. It takes all of 3 minutes to get to ‘Missendens’, a quick unload of the gear, and I tell Tony where I want him to build his hide. I take the car off the field and park it in a field gateway over the village road. By the time I get back, Tony has almost finished his hide, so I quickly get mine built, check the decoys, as a nice wind developed overnight (still SW though). Tony is to my right (as you look towards the sandpit) about 50 yards away.

Tony has Mollie, his 3 year old black labrador with him, and I have Sage, 13 years old and starting to slow up a bit, she’s yellow lab, and Dill a 2-year-old black cocker. We had a party of about 25 feral greylags here for the last few years, but I have neither seen nor heard them this year, so I ask Tony not to shoot them if they turn up. We agree to take geese or ducks as they appear - no waiting for each other - if the shot's on, take it!!!

4.50am - All is ready.. I’ve sat in the same hedge for 20 years, but that tingle of excitement is still as strong. (If it weren’t, there would be not point). The occasional goose can be heard from the sandpit about ¼ mile away. Its not actually getting light, but its less dark (does that make sense?).
5.05am - At last, a real glimmer of light is now appearing over Nobby’s farmhouse.
5.15am - A few crows start appearing over the field, and the occasional woodpigeon, amazing how they fly straight overhead when you’re not going to shoot them!!
5.20am - The geese are now calling more... the noise increases... like an engine being
revved up.
5.25am - All goes silent... THE’RE UP!!!!!!! Geese and duck now appear over the rim of the pit, some heading away from us, but several parties swing over ‘the goose field’ but about 200 yards to my left. A couple of ‘toots’ on my Heydel goose call, and they turn, set their wings and start to drop into the decoys.

This is it... All that waiting since last January. Now, no excuses, wait until they make their final approach, up, swing through, Bang!, (that’s Tony), keep swinging Bang! (that’s me), Bang! (Tony again), Bang! (my second barrel)... All this quickly followed by 4 resounding bumps as 4 fat Canada geese hit the ground. A quick shout of congratulations to each other, reload.... a small party of Mallard swing over Tony. He only has time for 1 shot, but his aim is true, and a hen Mallard hits the deck. The field is filled with a turmoil of geese and ducks, wheeling about, and not sure what’s happening. A party of 7 geese now swings over the decoys, directly between Tony and me, 4 shots and 4 more geese. Unusual for us. (Normally when we get geese between us, we both select the same birds). I had already decided 4 geese each, plus whatever Mallard came in, would be enough sport for the 1st morning, so call to Tony!

Whilst all this has been happening, the dogs have done what they’re trained to do - nothing, other than mark the birds down. Tony was first out of his hide, and Mollie quickly retrieved the Mallard which had fallen into the hedgerow, whilst Tony picked up his 4 geese. I then sent Sage out for 2 geese over the hedge in the next field. Dill the Cocker looked on (she was only here for the ride). You cannot expect a small Cocker to lift Canada geese can you?? Well, I thought I would give her a chance. 1 goose had landed amongst the decoys, so I sent her. I expected her to at least give it her best shot, and try to drag it back.. Drag it... no fear... to my utter surprise, she simply picked it up, lifted it completely off the ground, returned and presented it to me as if she had done it all her life. I just could not believe it.

Back home and yet another pot of tea. I decide to weigh both goose and dog.

Result: Dog 26½ pounds; Goose 12 pounds.

As I said - Little dog - Big goose.

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